Sunday, September 10, 2006

Victoria's oppressive "vilification" laws

Below is an excerpt from a parliamentary speech delivered 7 September 2006 by Senator Mitch Fifield. He was speaking about Mr Bruce Smith (1851-1937), a committed libertarian. The section in which Senator Fifield criticises Victoria's Racial and Religious Tolerance Act (2001) has been extracted

What disturbs me even more is the restriction of freedom of speech in Victoria as a result of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001. No-one should ever condone racial vilification. It is completely unacceptable in Australian society to vilify anyone on the basis of their racial background. It was a desire to protect members of our community that prompted the bill. Anti-Semitism was particularly in the minds of the proponents and the authors of the bill, but the act has gone too far. It limits freedom of religious expression, freedom of speech and freedom of conscience in a way that is totally unacceptable in a liberal, pluralistic democracy. Religious vilification should be condemned, but the difficulties of legislating against religious vilification have become evident.

Two Christian pastors have been found guilty by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal of making fun of Muslim beliefs and practices. The crime was to quote the Koran and evoke laughter from the audience. No-one suggested that the pastors were quoting the Koran incorrectly, just that the response to quoting passages from the Koran was laughter. In Victoria today, laughter amounts to religious vilification. The core business of clerics is to advocate why they believe-to advocate their world view and why their truth is the right one. Of necessity, this means saying why you believe that another's belief system is flawed. The battle of ideas, the battle of world views and the battle of beliefs is at the heart of what makes us a pluralistic society. Pluralism is not the housing of beliefs in silos; it is the interaction of those ideas and the tolerance of those ideas. But tolerance does not mean a denial of contestability. All ideas in our society should be contestable.

But there is worse to come. A convicted Wiccan paedophile serving time in jail has used the religious vilification provisions of the legislation to pursue the Salvation Army for allegedly vilifying his Wiccan religious beliefs. The paedophile voluntarily enrolled in an alpha course-a church-run course to explain Christianity. The crime? Those conducting the course did not speak well of witches, astrologers and occultists. TheWiccan was unsuccessful in his action, but the fact that this matter could even go to a directions hearing means that the laws are fundamentally flawed. I again turn to Bob Carr for assistance. He had this to say about such laws:

As they are used in practice, religious vilification laws can undermine the very freedom they seek to protect-freedom of thought, conscience and belief.

This is yet another example of meddling legislation. The solution to the articulation of poor ideas, stupid ideas, offensive ideas, is not to gag those articulating them. The solution is to rebut them with good ideas- the sort of legitimate exchange of ideas that people like Bruce Smith spent their lives engaging in. I fear that I am giving Bob Carr too much credit, but I will give him the final word on this particular piece of legislation. He said, `Leave these matters to the commonsense of the Australian people.'

I congratulate the state Liberal leader, Ted Baillieu, and the shadow Attorney-General, Andrew Macintosh, for their stands on these issues of freedom. The Victorian opposition is committed to repealing the bill of rights and to reviewing the religious vilification provisions of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act. Bruce Smith would be proud. We need to be vigilant and resolute and reject being told how to live our lives. It is always time to stand up for individual freedoms, liberty and equal opportunity. It is time to stand against these new nanny states. It is time to revive the spirit of Bruce Smith.


Australian falcons are no Greenies

Workers at the Caltex oil refinery have more than petrol production on their minds these days after two of the fastest killers in the skies took up residence in the plant. A pair of peregrine falcons has made the Kurnell refinery home, establishing a nest among the flaming chimneys and kilometres of pipes - on the side of a six-storey high furnace which vaporises oil at 500C.

The male of the pair was dubbed Steve, in honour of the first worker he took a surprise dive at a few weeks ago. Since then a warning sign has been placed on the ladder leading to the ledge where Steve and his lady companion have made their nest - and hopefully are incubating eggs which will soon hatch chicks. "Employees ... had sighted a pair of peregrine falcons over the plant for more than a year but not realised until recently that the pair were nesting in a large heating unit," refinery manager Tip Huizenga said. "An employee working in a section of the unit was startled when the male peregrine swooped at him a few times. "Investigations around the unit eventually revealed a nest in the unit and a female nesting."

Steve is a regular sight soaring above the refinery or keeping watch on his nest from a distant tower with eyes that can pick out prey from 3km away. When he does find prey they stand little chance: peregrine falcons can dive at 300km/h to strike and kill instantly with their powerful talons.


More Bible education coming?

Jesus Christ, Judas, biblical stories and Australia's religious divisions may soon be classroom topics to help students understand our past. Aboriginal history may have caused angst at last month's History Summit in Canberra, but it was the thorny question of religion which had educators most perplexed. Transcripts from the summit obtained last night show delegates struggled with religion in the national curriculum. It was Emeritus Professor Geoffrey Blainey who told delegates much of society could not be explained to students without religion. "Many of the great statements and parliamentary debates, be it about Judas, 13 pieces of silver or touching the hem of government, mean nothing now," he said. "Yet to that (previous) generation they were made powerful because they were metaphors chosen from the Bible." He said he believed the history curriculum needed to include religious knowledge, "irrespective of the vehicle used".

The broad gulf between Australian Catholics and Presbyterians in the first half of this century was a "lively" event which could easily engage youngsters, the summit heard. One unidentified delegate said religion became pivotal to Australian history in 1917 when the nation diverged "spectacularly" over the issue of conscription. "A Catholic archbishop was about to lead the flock against conscription," the delegate said. "Australians broadly of Presbyterian and Anglican background took a different viewpoint. At that point the different belief systems become lively and Australians get engaged. Until that point it is a boring story."

Curtin University of Technology Division of Humanities executive dean Tom Stannage disagreed. Professor Stannage said religion encompassed a far wider issue but was removed from the state curriculum and suppressed for 100 years. He said some students got their religious education from Sunday school and other sources. He said it was "a tough call . . . a major national decision to re-inject, it seems to me, religion back into the state schools in a non-controversial, open, inclusive sort of way." The one-day summit seeking a new path for the national history curriculum has agreed history should be compulsory for Years 9 and 10.


More crooked police

Victoria Police is disbanding its elite Armed Offenders Squad ahead of planned public hearings into its activities by the state's police anti-corruption watchdog. The scrapping of the squad, which had been the subject of an investigation by the Office of Police Integrity, was announced by Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon this morning. It will be replaced by a new taskforce called Taskforce 700, which will target serious armed offences.

It is understood the OPI has scheduled public hearings into the activities of the squad, including allegations that suspects were seriously assaulted, from September 18. The hearings, which will involve the examination of a number of squad members, are expected to run for several days. The OPI raided the Armed Offenders Squad at its offices in the Victoria Police complex in St Kilda Rd in July and seized files and other documents, including the diaries of some members. The raids followed a number of complaints to the OPI by people claiming they had been assaulted by squad members. The OPI said at the time it would recommended the squad be disbanded if the results of the investigation justified it.


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